The Gun, and Rifleman Dodd
© 1933 C.S. Forester
C.S. Forester is best known for his Horatio Hornblower stories, naval adventures set in the Napoleonic Wars. These two short works, The Gun and Rifleman Dodd, are less known but equally entertaining and detailed. Both are set in Napoleonic Iberia, as both a peasant resistance and the shattered remnants of the old Bourbon Army fight for Spain and Portugal’s liberty from Napoleon, with the generous support of English seapower and the Duke of Wellington.
The first story, The Gun, follows an eighteen pound siege gun which abandoned on the field after a crushing Spanish defeat, but recovered by a priest and a few farmers, The gun passes from hand, as many realize its incredible potential and attempt to shift it to the best place — and those who particularly value it seize it by force. It does get put into action, however, fomenting rebellion on the plains and sending the French into retreat for the first time.
Rifleman Dodd pieces together the adventure of the eponymous rifleman after he is cut off from a retreat, and lost behind enemy lines. A hard-worn veteran of five campaigns, Dodd knows how to soldier and stay alive, and so when he encounters a group of Portuguese irregulars, he becomes their leader and becomes a phantom menace to the French, who are haunted by visions of a green Englishmen. Even as they methodically begin sweeping and scouring the hills to destroy his hiding places, Dodd and a couple of survivors — and finally, Dodd alone — endeavor to put flames to Bonaparte’s plans.
Although a sketch of their plots gives both of these novels an air of romantic air, they’re not fanciful in the least. Forester does not shy from the brutal behavior of both parties, French and irregulars, as they fight tooth and claw with one another. Forester also does not reduce the French to a distant enemy: in Rifleman Dodd, he tells their story in alternate chapters, and every person Dodd kills is named as he falls. There’s no denying the adventurous drama of the last bit of Rifleman Dodd, however, as he beards the French lion in its den. Good stuff!
As a bit of trivia, Bernard Cornwell mentions a missing rifleman named Dodd in one of his Sharpe novels, also set in Spain. This is a deliberate reference to Rifleman Dodd, and one of Cornwell’s stories about becoming a writer involves trying to find more stories like Dodd, and then realizing he’d have to write them himself. Three cheers, then, for Rifleman Dodd, which was not only a great little story by itself, but one that gave us the force of nature that is Sharpe.
Rifleman Dodd was originally known as Death to the French. I speculated that the title was changed after the outbreak of World War 2, but Rifleman Dodd seems to have just been the American title.